John Doe is a prime example of a punk aging gracefully. In 1977 Doe formed X, a Los Angeles group that ran in the same circles as groundbreaking hardcore acts Black Flag and Fear. Five years later Doe and two of his bandmates from X helped start the Knitters, whose rootsy twang was a significant departure from the tense fury of punk. In the decades since, Doe has polished a similarly folk-influenced sound in his solo work, releasing ten records that showcase depth, warmth, and lush melodies. For the past few weeks X have been on the road opening for Pearl Jam, who wrap up their 20th-anniversary tour on Thursday in Mexico City, but Doe took some time out to talk to Matthew Hale Clark, who plays guitar for local ambient noise duo White/Light. John Doe plays a solo show at the Old Town School of Folk Music on Sat 11/26. —Luca Cimarusti
There was a photo that you posted on the X website, maybe in Argentina or Chile? It looks like you’re playing some decent-size venues. Yeah, you could say that they’re the biggest consistent audiences we’ve had. People are pretty fucking crazy. There’s a freedom down here [in South America] that has long been lost in the United States.
Freedom how? What do you mean? Life in general. I mean, the audiences are just unbridled, crazy for Pearl Jam, very kind to us.
Ha, “very kind to us”! They are! They could be chanting “Ole ole ole ole!” or they could be chanting Pearl Jam—and they’re not.
Are you in a van? No, we’re flying because it’s so far. I’m getting to the van part when I’m coming to Chicago in like three days.
You’re playing at the Old Town, right? You’re playing solo? Solo with a band, yes.
Who’s your band? Are they
babies the Sadies? No, it’s Cindy Wasserman, who sings on the record. She’s a great singer. She has a band called Dead Rock West. Stuart Johnson’s playing drums. He’s also on the record, and he’s played with Matthew Sweet and other people. Dave Carpenter’s playing bass. He played on a couple of my other records. And Maggie Bjorklund—she’s on Bloodshot—is playing pedal steel. She’s the only pedal steel player in Denmark.
Where do you live now? You live in San Francisco, or am I making that up? No, I live in Marin County, which is really fucking awesome and not nearly as expensive or snooty as people think.
Do you feel like you could be writing the songs that you wrote in the last ten years if you wrote them in Marin County? Definitely not. But that was all part of the master plan of writing songs that are more positive. Not to sound like a hippie, but I think satisfaction and being more positive is gonna make you live longer. There’s a big difference between an angry man and an angry old man.
I’m at least 18 percent hippie, it’s cool. You see that in Chicago, I’m sure, where there are people who have been around for a long time and for some reason they don’t appreciate what they’ve achieved.
I’ve lost some friends to anger, John, and it’s not pretty. And you don’t have to be a blithering idiot to find some satisfaction. And I don’t plan on doing some solo project with Phil Lesh.
You’re not gonna make your David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name record? There’s actually a David Crosby record called If I Could Only Remember My Name. Yeah.
I hope that’s not you. Aptly titled. He had a lot more access to drugs, or chose to carry around more drugs and handguns and things like that than I ever did. I guess David Crosby is more of a badass than any of us are.